Five Times People Claim That I Am Queer, and One Time I Say I Am
Debrief: As the title suggests, this short story showcases the many ways the label “queer” and the notion of queerness can be misapplied by different people to the same individual. As the absurdity of the situation accelerates, the impacts are wide-ranging: internalized misogyny as justification for homophobia, teenage toxic romantic relationships, the relative arrogrance of LGBTQ allies, fetishization of queer people, blatant homophobia, and stereotypes reinforced by community members. Intentionally or unintentionally, people from minority groups can easily have parts of their own narratives denied.The situation is only resolved once these individuals can proclaim their identity labels and encourage people around them to support them in this process.
“That’s the queer one in class 8A4. She doesn’t hang out with girls, and only sticks to those nerdy dudes. Always hanging out with boys while denying that she holds any feelings for them. She probably plans on screwing with all three of them at once—no girl wants to hang out with boys that much if not to receive attention from them. Imagine a foursome between three ugly nerds and a lesbian!”
Kids at the new school are taunting me for being the new kid and are now spreading the rumor that I am a flirt or a lesbian or both because I only hang out with the three nerdiest boys in my class. This must be the price of not being like the other girls. The other girls seem to care only about curling their bangs and lipsticks and talking to each other. Petty and pathetic girls! They weep and yelp and gossip. That is to say, the other girls are every girl that I know of. Meanwhile, here I am being sensationally better than them because I only associate with boys. Having the boys affirm that you are “not like the other girls” compensates for every snark about being “that lesbian,” right? For as long as I’m not a lesbian, there’s no reason to feel guilty or overreact, right?
What a relief, being “not like the other girls.”
“Same-sex marriage is normal!”
“What the actual loving fuck? Are you LGBT?”
“Don’t accuse me of such thing! I’m just saying that gay people already suffer enough. Can’t we help by sparing them marriage rights though?”
“Ewwwwwwww, I can’t believe you stand for the homos, you homo.”
I am outraged. I am disgusted. How dare he, my boyfriend, accuse me of being LGBTQ, just because I merely suggest that gay people should be able to get married, too. It’s all right. I take a deep breath and think, “He’s just a boy. Boys will be boys, and they just don’t care about the gays.”
“Huh, come to think of it, I feel like I am dating a man. You slouch, you curse, you don’t get scared of silly shit like the other girls. Should I worry for myself?”
I playfully hit his arm, as he chuckles lightheartedly.
What a silly boyfriend I have.
“Hey, the dude from French class says that you have lesbian energy.”
“I dunno. He says that he often sees you walking around school with those boots of yours, talking to people about your plan to establish the school’s first LGBTQ support group. He says that you radiate angry lesbian energy.”
“Ha, see how I manage to be better than everyone? I like boys, yet look cool enough to be mistaken for a lesbian. See, when you are unproblematic and doing God’s work….”
“Wait, you are not gay?”
“No. I only like boys.”
“Then why are you fighting so hard for LGBTQ rights?”
“Because my friend in secondary school only dated trans boys and lesbians, and our teachers and her parents were assholes to her. I want to change that. So I’m starting with the support group.”
“That is so noble of you.”
A cosmic shift occurs in my life once I become a high school freshman. There is no hesitation in the way I conduct myself on the campus. I am walking, walking, walking with determination. I demand that people pay attention to minority groups. My parents take pride in me for battling to claim rights for a group of people that I do not personally relate to. The only downside of being a social justice warrior is that people often mistake me for a member of the LGBTQ community, which explains why not many boys ask me out.
What a sacrifice I am making.
“Why do you have to make a fuss over a nine-year-old kid calling you a dyke? Sure, he was mean, and that was out of line and he should have known better, but shouldn’t you spend your energy on more positive things in your daily life?”
“Because he saw my short hair and decided to use that slur with me! Because I don’t look like a girl to him! That was offensive and homophobic!”
“How can it be homophobic when you yourself are not queer! Why do you care so much! If you end up being upset about this for years, I guarantee you that you will soon lose the joy in life, and it will be all your fault for not training your mind to think positively!”
Oh. OH. So, I can’t vent to my parents about being insulted on my school playground by a nine-year-old kid, apparently. Their daughter was called a dyke on campus, but why on earth should she be upset over that, because she personally is not one? Alas, her sensitivity will one day prove to be her fatal flaw. I pick up the discarded uniform jacket on the couch and walk back to my room, hanging the uniform on the clothing peg. My eyes stop at the tiny bisexual flag that I secretly drew on its left arm.
What a shallow breath I just heave out.
“I said that you are very pretty and you dance very well! Don’t make me repeat it! I have anxiety! I think that you are really cool, will you go out with me?”
“Oh, you’re queer? Yeah, I thought so too. Since you cut your hair really short last year, I already knew that you were somewhat of an LGBTQ member. I noticed you, too. Let’s meet up after school today, yeah?”
And on that note, my crush leaves to meet her friend, her hair bouncing against her back, God help me, while I am frozen to my feet with a very dry mouth and a stare. My friend nudges me:
“Well, that went well, right?”
“I hadn’t identified as queer when I first cut my hair.” “What?”
“Yeah. I didn’t cut it because I was queer. It was a celebratory haircut. I had just got out of an eight-month depressive episode at the time, so I decided to commemorate it by getting that haircut.”
“Hold up, are you telling me that the haircut that blew up the gossip market happened not because you wanted to come out?”
“No. Actually, it was because of that haircut that a girl in my class started flirting with me because of my androgynous look. Then I realized I was attracted to girls too.”
“But you are not depressed anymore, right? Why do you still keep it short?”
“I still have episodes, just not as frequent. And the hair? Well, the boys here claim that I look like a trans lesbian to them, so I can’t bother to give a single f*ck. So, I thought why not charm all the freshman girls’ pants off with my androgyny?”
My friend is speechless. If only she knew the loud silence that people gave to me when I first came back to school with that haircut.
What privilege she possesses.
“Wait, are you a volunteer for the LGBTQ booth? So you are a supporter of the LGBTQ community?”
“I am the LGBTQ community.”
“Wait, what? I thought you were straight?” “Excuse me?”
“B-because you don’t look ‘queer.’ Y-you have long hair and wear lipstick and are wearing a floral dress. I have never ever seen an LGBTQ person who looks this—”
“Are you implying that being LGBTQ is not normal?”
“No no no no, I don’t mean to be offensive. It’s just that some people present themselves too … loudly, you know? Like you take one look at them and you know immediately that they are gay. What is the word? Ah yeah, gaydar. There are people that my gaydar can catch a signal of very easily.”
“All right. Let me ask you. How do you introduce yourself to a foreigner?”
“Uhhh, I will go with my name and say that I am Vietnamese? Then—”
“Do you need to wear a Tôi yêu Viet Nam t-shirt so that they will know that you are Vietnamese?”
“Yeah, because you know that you are Vietnamese. But some assholes sometimes still call you Chinese before they even bother to ask you. How does that make you feel?”
“Well, probably not great.”
“Lesson learned! Don’t go around and assume people’s identity. Just. Ask.”
“So you are—”
“Queer. I am queer. Precisely, biromantic—asexual.”
“Thank you for telling me. So, tell me more about these rainbow bracelets?”
I find a smile in my heart travelling back in time. This is for the boy-obsessed lesbian, homo girlfriend, lesbian energy straight savior, dyke senior, tranny haircut LGBTQ icon me. Rainbow bracelets for all of them now, if I could.
What a label to claim. Queer.
Bùi Khánh Minh is an undergraduate at Fulbright University Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She is one of the two founders and now the president of FulPride & Alliance—Fulbright University Vietnam’s first-ever LGBTQ+ support group. Her close extended family is currently divided by the reasons behind her pas- sion for LGBTQ+ activism: worrying that she fights for equality because she is a lesbian or passing her off as “normal” with a love for revolution. Unbeknownst to them, she is a bisexual girl who happens to really love taking down discrimination and challenging the conduct of leadership.